EU antitrust officials probe parallel trade

Parallel trade in Europe has attracted the gimlet eye of antitrust regulators. EU investigators launched a probe into the players that buy drugs at cheap, state-regulated prices in lower-cost countries and resell them in markets where they can command higher prices.

European Commission official Blaz Visnar announced the probe but wouldn't identify the companies targeted, Bloomberg reports. "We have sent the first round of questionnaires out," Visnar said at a conference in Brussels.

Drug-price cuts have become common across the EU, but price differences remain. Already low prices in Spain and Greece have been cut further, so, despite cutbacks in better-off countries such as Germany and France, there's still a big spread. Exports from Greece have grown so common that they're blamed for exacerbating drug shortages there. (Of course, Greece is having trouble paying for drugs at all, but that's another story.)

Among the questions investigators are exploring: Whether drug companies are justified in arguing for differential pricing in low-cost countries. In Spain more than a decade ago, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) wanted to set higher prices on drugs for export than on drugs for use in-country, but antitrust regulators nixed the idea. In 2009, regulators were told to look at Glaxo's case again, Bloomberg reports.

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